COVID-19 vaccines for your kids? Meritus 'will be prepared' when it's available

Meritus Health and pediatricians and pharmacists are bracing for a crush after Pfizer-BioNTech submitted an application Thursday to authorize its COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5 to 11. 

"The COVID-19 vaccine could be available for children ages 5-11 as soon as the end of October 2021," Dr. Aaron George, chief medical officer for Meritus Health, wrote in an email Friday.

"Studies continue across all pediatric ages, and we expect that authorization for the vaccine for ages 6 months to 5 years will be coming in early 2022," he wrote.

More than 28 million children could become eligible to receive the shot by Halloween or days after, and there is pent-up demand as many parents are eager to get their kids vaccinated now that they are back at school. 

“We’ve already had families inquire when they come in or calling and asking if we’re going to be giving the pediatric dose,” said Dr. Sharon Marshall, a professor of pediatrics at Wayne State University in Michigan.

Like other medical facilities, Meritus is awaiting word from federal regulators.

"Meritus Health is monitoring the FDA process very closely and will be prepared when this vaccine is available for more of our pediatric population," George wrote. "The data across all ages continues to show overall effectiveness and safety in immunizing all children and adults alike."

More COVID-19 cases among kids

The move to expand authorization of the vaccine comes amid increasing rates of infection and hospitalization among children.

About 5 million children under 18 have tested positive for the coronavirus since the pandemic started. Almost 45 million people have tested positive across the country. 

In August and September, hospitalizations of children with COVID-19 increased across the United States. Weekly pediatric admissions reached a peak of more than three kids per 100,000 the week ending Sept. 5 and have since declined in most states along with adult COVID-19 admissions.

Still, in more than a dozen states, including Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah, Delaware and Vermont, pediatric admission rates have increased in the last two weeks.

Pockets of low adult vaccination rates, relaxed social distancing and schools reopening have meant more kids with COVID-19 and more kids ending up in the hospital, said Dr. Donna Tyungu, a pediatric infectious disease physician at OU Health in Oklahoma City.

According to Meritus Health, there were no pediatric patients with COVID-19 being treated at Meritus Medical Center on Friday.

On Friday, the hospital was treating 52 patients for COVID-19, and 86% of the 52 were unvaccinated. Of the 11 COVID-19 patients in the intensive care unit, 10 were not vaccinated.

Vaccine, testing clinics scheduled

Meritus Health's COVID-19 vaccine clinic is accepting walk-in patients who want to receive a booster shot for their Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, according to a Meritus news release.

The clinic in the atrium of Robinwood Professional Center east of Hagerstown is accepting qualified walk-ins from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., according to an announcement from Meritus.

Patients qualify if they received their second shot at least six months ago, are age 65 or older, work in an environment that puts them at high risk for exposure or are 18 to 64 years old at high risk for COVID-19 because of a compromised immune system, the release states.

As of Thursday, there have been 18,404 COVID-19 cases in Washington County resulting in 365 deaths, according to county's statistics.

This article first published in The Herald-Mail and in October 2021.